‘Confess, Fletch’ and the Dire State of Big Screen Comedies

If I approached you on the street and told you there was a comedy starring an award-winning actor based on a beloved intellectual property and directed by the guy who made the smash hit Superbadwould you have any idea to what I was referring? Or would you simply look at me with a blank stare, desperately waiting for the walk sign to come on so you could flee my rantings?

That’s the fate of Confess, Fletch. Starring Jon Hamm (sucker punch Mad Men), based on a book from the series that served as the source material for Chevy Chase’s beloved comedy, fletchand directed by Greg Mottola (Adventureland, Superbad), it’s in theaters now. Some theatres. Like, 800 theaters. Maybe fewer after the abysmal numbers it put up last week. It put up abysmal numbers because it’s also on VOD, meaning that no one wanted to advertise its existence. I only knew about it because I got some emails from the flacks doing PR for it and happened to see the trailer.

Confess, Fletch is well reviewed, clocking in at 85 percent fresh on Rotten Tomatoes. Harder to say how it’s playing with audiences, given lack of CinemaScore numbers: audiences rate it 75 percent fresh on 50+ verified reviews at RT, the IMDB rating is a 6.5 on 2,100+ reviews, and Amazon users have given it 4.2 out of 5 stars on (checks site again) 19 global ratings. But people are seeing it and there’s a low-level buzz that it’s good. Hey, at the very least it has Jon Hamm and John Slattery together again, yukking it up!

But there’s a decent chance that even you, the dedicated consumer of this newsletter and therefore someone who pays attention to the artistry and business of Hollywood, haven’t even heard of Confess, Fletch. If you’re confused, don’t worry: the director is as well.

“You didn’t notice the zero marketing?” motto asked Mike Ryan of Uproxx. “It’s weird.”

That weirdness is a symptom of a growing problem in Hollywood, the town’s complete inability to sell a relatively cheap comedy to ticket-buying audiences. Here’s Mottola again; I envision him saying all of this with a slightly puzzled look on his face:

We did make the film for a number, and all in, it was a $20 million film. Enough money that Miramax obviously wanted to make it back, but there was a road they could have taken of going to selling rights around the world, and letting a smaller company distribute it. And it turned into this sort of hybrid token theatrical distribution with no real support. And on demand at the same time. And I don’t know yet, but I think on-demand is going okay, and then it will be on Showtime. So I really feel like this is a product of: nobody knows what works at the moment and they’re trying stuff out, but it is very weird for me.

Once upon a time, and not really that long ago, Hollywood knew how to make and market movies like this. Superbad made $120 million. Bridesmaids made $169 million. Judd Apatow built a whole empire on the backs of modestly budgeted R-rated comedies like Knocked Up and The 40-Year-Old Virgin. I don’t know that Confess, Fletch is as good as any of those pictures—it’s fine! I laughed a few times and found Jon Hamm to be charmingly reactive in it—but it’s also the sort of thing that shouldn’t be literally impossible to market to audiences in a way that would, at least, earn back the very modest budget at the box office.

But then: I myself watched it on my couch despite knowing of its existence and wanting to watch it. Easier that way. More comfortable. Had a nice night in with my wife. Cheaper than buying two tickets, getting a sitter, etc. And that sort of viewing experience might simply be the future of the 100-minute comedy for adults.

I hope you check out this week’s episode of The Bulwark Goes to Hollywood; I had an interesting and educational chat with Colin Moriarity about the creeping influence of China on the world of video games. Gaming is an enormous industry and a burgeoning art form, and we’d do well to use every lever of power in our control to stop the CCP from exerting influence on video games.

I reviewed Don’t Worry Darling, a movie I didn’t hate quite as much as some critics, but also a movie I didn’t really like either. There’s a deadly mix of trite and smug in this movie that just makes it somewhat unbearable.

For more on the Don’t Worry Darling drama—Fighting stars! Cheating directors!—make sure to read this deep dive by Vulture’s Chris Lee.

Over at the Washington Post, I talked a bit about the controversy swirling around The Woman King‘s historical inaccuracies. (This link should get you past the paywall.) On the one hand, I don’t think inaccuracies “matter” that much when considering the quality of a movie; on the other, I do wonder if a movie that more fully examined the Dahomey participation in the slave trade would have been more interesting.

On Across the Movie Aisle this week, Alyssa, Peter and I talked about The Rings of Power. I’m getting more into it? and on the bonus episode we compared and contrasted the worlds and worldviews of House of the Dragon and The Rings of Power. fun stuff! If you want to listen to that and haven’t yet subscribed to Bulwark+, here’s two weeks free on me. Could you sign up, listen to all the bonuses in two weeks, and then cancel immediately? I guess you could do that, but it would be kind of rude. Either way, give it a shot.

Two Weeks Free!

I haven’t seen Athens yet, but Bilge Ebiri says it’s the best movie of the year released so farand that’s more than enough to pique my interest.

Last week I suggested that buying exclusive rights to Thursday Night Football was the smartest thing Amazon could do to spark activations of Prime Video and the first-week numbers show that, hey, that’s probably true.

Last week it was announced that Constantine would be getting a long-awaited sequel, reuniting Keanu Reeves and director Francis Lawrence for another adventure with the foul-mouthed demon hunter. The original is sorely underrated, so I’m excited for the sequel. It’s on Netflix for one more week, so watch quick if you’ve never seen it before.

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